How to manage your anger. Some Buddhist thoughts on this powerful emotion…

I have had a few angry conversations in recent months. One with a fellow blogger whom I’ve never met, one with the BBC and one with the manager of my son’s football team. Whether I ‘won the arguments’ or not is irrelevant (except to my ego), whether I was right or wrong is equally by-the-by. Buddhism teaches the sometimes inconvenient truth that I attract these situations into my life, that my own inner anger is like a magnet that can pull me into conflicts and sometimes sees me being disrespectful and losing my temper more than I would like to.

Leon & Suze

Luckily I have learned a lot about anger from my 12-year-old son Leon. A few years ago, when I was trying to catch the cat to take her to the vet, I asked him to make sure he didn’t leave the back door open. Unfortunately he did, the cat escaped, we were going to be late, I exploded with rage… And he just calmly looked at me and said: “Daddy, getting angry won’t bring the cat back in.” I was gobsmacked and will never forget this humbling moment and the fact that he naturally focused on the solution instead of the problem. Chanting about it later, it occurred to me that anger is the first reaction of the stupid when it needs to be the last resort of the wise. 

But of all the emotions that people struggle with, anger is perhaps the most challenging and the one most often discussed in coaching sessions, in mindfulness therapy and on personal development courses. We get angry at ourselves – what we did and didn’t do. We get angry at others – what they have or haven’t said or done. We get angry with (tick any that apply to you…) politicians, bosses, neighbours, colleagues, drivers, referees, husbands, wives, children, siblings, friends, customers, call centre agents and traffic wardens. We even get angry at inanimate objects such as traffic lights, flat-pack furniture and doors.

As always in Buddhism, you are totally responsible for how you feel and act, as Daisaku Ikeda points out: “If someone hits you and you hit him back, the first blow is the stimulus leading to the second, but it is not the ultimate cause. You can maintain that you hit the person because he hit you, but in fact you hit him because you are you.”

And Buddhism does not say, “Never get angry.” In fact one of the things I found most irritating (ironically…) when I first read Nichiren’s writings was just how angry he often seemed – this did not fit in with my pre-conceived ideas of a serene and meditative Buddhist guru. Nichiren got angry with the authorities of Japan. With corrupt priests. With other Buddhist schools. Anger was in many ways the fuel and passion that fired his determination to spread the revolutionary teachings of the Lotus Sutra amongst the Japanese people, aiming to show all people how to become truly happy in this lifetime.

Say goodbye to your angry victim

Of all the angry emotions we feel, the rage of an angry victim is one of the most damaging and difficult to change. The angry victim does not accept accountability for his karma, is stuck in the past, sabotages positive affirmations, feels sorry for himself and blames other people for his difficulties. The angry victim does not forget and does not forgive. No recompense or apology is ever enough for him because deep down he wants to stay an angry victim, he gains some sort of emotional comfort from it. And incidentally, the only thing worse than one angry victim is two angry victims blaming each other for their unhappiness. Here’s a suggestion: become an architect of your future, not an angry victim of your past.

Discover the value in anger

So, anger in and of itself is neither good nor bad. It all depends on what you do with this passion, this powerful energy. Here are 7 questions that might help you decide whether your anger creates or destroys value: 

  1. Is your anger protecting your small ego? Your reputation? Your low self-esteem?
  2. Or are you standing up for the dignity of life?
  3. Do you get angry at others because you don’t want to apologise for your own mistakes, such is your need to be right all the time?
  4. Or are you using your anger to benefit others as well as yourself?
  5. Is your anger aimed purely at winning an argument?
  6. Or are you fighting on a wider scale for progress and justice?
  7. Does your anger help you and someone else connect with their Buddhahood?

Very often the emotions that seem to emerge when we determine to create value from anger are Wisdom and Compassion, two of the key qualities that you can develop through chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. Where anger separates us by focusing on what makes us different, Compassion and Wisdom focus on the shared humanity we naturally feel when we chant, when we connect with the Universe at its most profound level.

A lesson my wise young son seems to have grasped long before me…

Dx

19 thoughts on “How to manage your anger. Some Buddhist thoughts on this powerful emotion…

  1. much needed feedback on this subject, as i’ve noticed anger has helped at least as a “wake up call” where calmly reasoning hasn’t. i’ve seemed like a doormat when i’m just walking along, minding my own business or even being friendly. sadly, it has seemed to ‘encourage’ abusive behavior, etc. i’d like to just use anger as a “wake up call” and then proceed with an effort to reason for people who can’t be bothered to slow down and consider the latter.

  2. Thank you David for your post. A couple of days ago a friend of mine was angry about her son and his father (ex-husband). She felt abused….. was so angry. I could recognized her anger but I left it be. And it is what Mr Toda said Compassion equal courage. I believe courage is the key to everything. In my situation to find a way to explain and tell her how to deal with her anger. So thank you again for your post … with your guidance I can help her better. Mystical isn’t it? A prayer never goes unanswered

    1. Hey Mae, well done on caring and supporting your friend and I am happy to hear that my blog post may be helpful to her.
      All best wishes
      David

  3. Hi, wonderful post. Just now I encountered anger outburst and I was crying my heart out that why I am always being a victim, now I realise its me who is attracting such causes. I am a practicing member, how powerful this practice is, can be recognized at low points in your life when chanting Nam Moyo Ho Renge Kyo make you stand and roar over your problems. Thanks to above mentioned encouraging sensie’s msgs. I just did my evening prayers where I was crying and asking Gohonzon to guide me. Picking up my phone and searching for solution was not intended. That is how mystically this practice make you courageous wise and fill your heart with compassion. Thank you all for your efforts. I am sure we all are praying to do our human revolution by changing our karma. I must add that this practice adds a meaning in your life. Understanding of ten worlds is one of the important aspect of lotus sutra that enable us to attain buddhahood. Indeed like a lotus flower in mud stand high, we should not allow muddy environment to effect our happiness.

    1. Hello Niance, many thanks for your kind comments, I am delighted that this post helped you as this means that I am fulfilling my mission! I wish you all the best with achieving all your goals and attaining absolute happiness in this lifetime. All best wishes, David

  4. Nice post! Often, its difficult to believe that one can bring forth Compassion – one of the noble and hard-to-get virtues, when one is an “angry victim”. Compassion and Courage are hallmark of Nichiren Buddhism. However, manifesting compassion is something that doesn’t come easy when there is a lot of anger bottled within or expressed as “wild outpourings” (in both the cases its abusive – abusive for self and abusive for others).
    That’s why Nichiren Buddhists focus on Courage so much. Compassion can be tapped very naturally when one has the courage to identify one’s weakness(s) of being impulsive, short-tempered etc. The moment one realizes, “I am finding it difficult to forgive the other person”, one also realizes the harm one’s angry words + actions would have done to the other person. Then, perhaps, it becomes easy to empathize that the other person is also equally hurt. I am discovering that this realization comes when one chants for others’ happiness despite one’s own pain and hurt. But, of course, remembering this at the crucial time of our Human Revolution (one where I am faltering at most times) is what one needs to keep in mind.

    1. Hiya SPaul, that’s a great explanation. I vaguely recall Josei Toda saying that when we cannot feel compassion, we should chant to manifest courage instead and your comment absolutely sheds light on this. But I think I need to chant more about it and thanks to your eloquent words, I will do just that! All best, David

      1. Hi David! Exactly, those words of mine have come after studying Toda sensei’s quote only and I keep on reflecting. In fact, manifesting courage is also not a cake walk. Deep within, we know we are wrong, we need to change but our ego always expects the other person to change first. Ahh!

        So, when are we going to read a new post from you? Really enjoy reading your blog. In fact, on your previous comment (one related to poem on HR) I just wanted to say that indeed its no coincidence that I too stumbled upon that poem (of SGI-UK member) ‘early’ in my practice. This is my fifth year…so I am still a young sapling in the realm of Buddhism :D. Wish you good luck for future writing!

        1. Yes, that’s a very good example of how ego works, thank you 🙂 There should be a new post this coming weekend, I did a Skype interview with an SGI member who’s a Hollywood actress and she has some great stuff to say, just need to finish writing it up. Thank you for your support.

  5. Being an angry victim is way better than stuffing the anger inside when justice hasn’t been served. Fighting for justice is crucial.

    Most of my songs come from angry victim, because other people don’t like to see it or witness it. Because it’s painful. When people hear my songs they can witness angry victim becoming determined woman!

    When one is a victim it’s important to recognise that, especially with the teaching of choosing our karma.

    I’m am angry victim of rape. Trying to accept it as my responsibility meant I did not even recognise it as rape for years. So I cut off from it. This meant I kept attracting similar situations till I changed my karma. This never made rape or violence towards me my fault. It made me a victim.

    This is an important stage in processing the truth of what has happened. It’s only through getting to the anger that it’s possible to transform it. Otherwise the avoidance of anger causes depression.

    Safe ways to express anger like writing songs is human revolution. Getting the anger out of inside a person and transforming it into a passion to protect women and fight for women’s rights. That’s human revolution.

    Realising that being a victim of rape makes me powerful because I can use my experience to support others. That’s human revolution. 🙂

    1. Wise words, eloquently spoken, thank you Meri, I think I will modify this part of my book, in the light of your comment, as there is a positive aspect to ‘angry victim’ that I hadn’t recognised. Thank you. D 🙂

  6. This is an interesting and thought provoking article. It reminds me actually of the book ‘A guide to happiness’ which is a conversation between the Delai Lama and a Psychotherapist. The Psychotherapist speaks of using anger release exercises in therapy whereas the Delai Lama feels that anger can be solved more by understanding before needing the catharsis. I would still stand by a combination of the two in therapy.

  7. Hmmmmmmmm, anger! Anger directed at destruction is really unpardonable. The very passage that struck me, “The angry victim does not accept accountability for his karma, is stuck in the past, sabotages positive affirmations, feels sorry for himself and blames other people for his difficulties”. At a point in my life, I became so much angry with my parents about why they did not sponsor my university education at the right time, the time that I was young and brilliant I could have excelled in any field of endeavour. However as I continued to practise Buddhism and grow, reading Daisaku Ikeda’s guidance, I began to identify myself. Yes! I must appreciate the fact that I am still alive, that, karmically speaking, I chose my parents, and they chose me and that my life can be better through my own efforts. I directed my anger to study no matter how old I was, and NO MATTER WHAT! Now even though I’m still learning, at 44, I feel great about my life. I finished university in 2009 with a good class, have post graduate diploma in Insurance, Ghana Insurance College. My dad, who left me at age 12, adores me more now, my mum brags about my achievements and sees me as an asset to the family. Thanks to the Daishonin’s Buddhism. A true Buddhist never feels sorry for himself but rather directs karma to mission and helps others to do the same.

    1. Ivy, what a wonderful and passionate story – passion is anger pointed in the right direction, would you agree? Your victories in your studies are a lovely example of turning ‘poison into medicine’ / karma into mission :-). How grateful we can feel to our parents for the human revolution they allow us to do! Thank you for sharing and congratulations to your Mum and Dad for choosing you as their daughter. Please keep me updated on your future victories so that you can inspire more people with your life. In fact, if you want to send me a full experience about studying or anything else, please do and I will find a place for it on this blog. D 🙂

  8. Nichiren Daishonin said “To chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is to roar like a lion” — and that’s enough roaring for me!

  9. The Dalai Lama’s thought for the day is wholly relevant:

    “Whether we consider the individual, family, local, national or international level, peace must arise from inner peace. For example, making prayers for peace while continuing to harbour anger is futile. Training the mind and overcoming your anger is much more effective than mere prayer. Anger, hatred and jealousy never solve problems, only affection, concern and respect can do that.”

    The Lion must roar, but that roar should be an expression of power and not anger.

    Namaste ~ Anupadin

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